Op-Ed: How the IoT Could Transform Homeland Security

fed times

By Marc Pearl, President & CEO, Homeland Security & Defense Business Council

April 19, 2016 | Published in the Federal Times 

One of the most dominant trends in technology today, the Internet of Things (IoT), is often discussed from the perspective of the cost savings and efficiencies it offers to consumers and businesses.

Its value to government has not received as much attention. However, for an agency like the Department of Homeland Security, and other government agencies within the homeland security enterprise, the IoT has a value proposition that goes straight to the heart of the mission. It has the potential to transform how local, state and federal agencies protect the safety and security of our nation.

The IoT involves the interconnection via the Internet of sensors and smart devices embedded in everyday objects. The power of the IoT comes from the ability of interconnected objects to send and receive data and to be detected and controlled remotely. When these objects are part of integrated systems, the data that becomes available in real time can provide situational awareness, detect threats and warn and alert to dangerous situations.

In the context of homeland security, these capabilities will dramatically impact the planning and implementation of:

  • Emergency response
  • Border security
  • Port and maritime security
  • Transportation security
  • Terrorism prevention, and
  • The protection of critical infrastructure.

The Science & Technology Directorate at DHS has developed visionary goals for how technology and the IoT can change the future of security. For first responders, the future might involve a series of handheld devices sensors, and wearable technologies that are built into clothing and protective gear. A wearable shirt could potentially provide ballistic protection while also monitoring and reporting physical location and health information such as heart rate and body temperature.

Multi-hazard sensors could monitor environmental conditions and alert to the presence of biological, chemical or radiological agents. Law enforcement might have a video camera embedded in a police badge, or facial recognition capabilities built into their glasses. Instead of handheld radios, a smart device would serve as a personal hub for communication and information. The desired result is to have technologies work together effortlessly so that responders have access to important safety information, while minimizing the number and weight of carried equipment.

Imagine that TSA officers could determine your identity and screen your baggage as you walked down an airport terminal instead of having you show your identification and wait in line. S&T envisions that airports will one day build an almost unnoticeable checkpoint that combines imaging, trace detection, x-ray technologies, and software systems. Noninvasive screening would enable faster and more accurate detection of threats with minimal interference to the pace of travel and speed of commerce.

The IoT could allow FEMA to remotely identify and track employees, victims, and assets in disaster zones. It would help CBP pursue and safely detain persons illegally crossing the border. It could also enable the federal government to monitor and analyze the social media content of government workers with security clearances or potential terrorists.

The IoT can make these concepts possible, but it will still take time, technological innovation, and a strong partnership between government and industry before these visions become reality. Now is the time for DHS to start planning and thinking through the challenges and complexities. Much like when the federal government started the move to cloud computing, there are significant privacy and security issues, data management and infrastructure issues and organizational challenges involved with managing IoT.

Given the billions of connected devices that exist, security cannot be an afterthought. I applaud the actions of the Silicon Valley office of S&T, which recently started issuing seed money to companies with ideas on IoT security.

While the security and privacy risks must be addressed, the opportunities made possible by the IoT are worth the time and investment, and will ultimately help governments achieve mission success.


To view the blog published on the Federal Times, please click here.